SALIHA REHANAZ | NEWS
In the last few years, Myanmar has come under the limelight due to the atrocities the ethnic minorities have faced under what is described as ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Fighting against the authoritarian government since the 1980s, Burmese residents still face corruption and injustice today.
Located in South East Asia and neighbored by Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China, and India, Myanmar has been making headlines over the last few years. Myanmar, also known as Burma, gained independence from the British in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, however it seems that Myanmar is losing its independence once again.
With a population of about 54 million people, the country returned to civilian rule in 2011 due to the efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi. She became a renowned world icon in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy and had spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010 after organising rallies calling for democratic reform and free election. For her determination, Suu Kyi was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991.
While applauded for her role in revolutionising the Burmese government, Suu Kyi came under scrutiny and the democratic icon’s international reputation has greatly suffered since 2017. This has been the result of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority. Additionally, the government also considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship. Torturing of the Rohingya Muslims has been taking place for decades and has forced hundreds and thousands to flee to the neighboring country of Bangladesh under risky and often deadly circumstances.
Suu Kyi has appeared before the International Court of Justice in 2019, where she had denied allegations that the military had committed genocide. In 2018, Amnesty International also stripped Suu Kyi of its highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Despite the recent tarnish of Suu Kyi’s name, her years of sacrifice and effort to bring democracy to a military-ruled Myanmar cannot be forgotten. She still remains a hugely popular figure among the country’s Buddhist majority, therefore in 2015, after decades of protests and rallies, Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party won a supermajority in both houses of the assembly, paving the way for the country’s first non-military president in 54 years.
However, even though she had a landslide victory, the Myanmar constitution forbade her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals. These are the same children, who had been deprived of their mother’s love and affection for decades, because of the numerous times that Suu Kyi has been put under house arrest. Since she was not allowed to be President, her official title was state counsellor. However, she was widely seen as the de facto leader, with Win Myint as President, who was a close aide.
In 2020, the NLD party won once again in a major landslide, getting even more votes than in the 2015 elections. However, the still powerful military is now back in charge and has declared a year-long state of emergency. Even though the election commission has said there is no evidence to support any claims of fraud, the opposition has demanded a rerun of the votes. The armed forces have backed the opposition’s claims of widespread fraud and a coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.
It is thought that Suu Kyi is under house arrest. There have been several charges that have been filed against her, including breaching import and export laws and possession of unlawful communication devices. Numerous other officials of the NLD party have also been detained.
Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is the leader of the coup and has long wielded significant political influence. He has been successful in maintaining the power of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, even as the country has transitioned towards democracy over the years. Hlaing has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities, and the military has replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior, and foreign affairs.
The military states that it will hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency is over.
Amidst the coup, citizens have not been quiet as Suu Kyi has urged her supporters to “protest against the coup.” Each night since the coup, residents in the main cities, such as Yangon, have been showing their disapproval of the military’s actions by banging pots and honking car horns.
Numerous hospital and medical center staff have walked out, and many others are wearing ribbons showing they oppose the coup. On February 5th, hundreds of teachers and students took to the streets of Yangon, where they displayed the three-finger salute – a sign that has been adopted by protestors in the region to show their opposition to the authoritarian rule.
There has also been a near-total internet blackout imposed by the military to prevent protestors from using social media to share the message with the international community of the injustice they are currently facing.
However, protests still continue from people of all ages and economic backgrounds as they call for the release of those detained by the army, including elected leader Suu Kyi.
Now the question remains, will democracy win once again or is the military back in power for good this time in Myanmar?